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The Dangers of Overbooking our Children

Photo by Christopher Lee

A typical weekend of fun for my husband and me begins with waking up early on Saturday morning to get my son dressed for his lacrosse game. It takes about ten minutes to wake him up which is then followed by me knocking on my daughter's door and saying, "Rise and shine; it's gymnastics day!” As my husband runs down the steps to make coffee, I jump into the shower, throw on some clothes and get ready for my day of rushing from one sporting event to the next. These are the days when the coffee maker should be right next to your bed.

As we all rush out the door, we always leave something behind, like a water bottle, which then propels us to stop at the nearest grocery store to pick up a Gatorade. In the end we are about 10 minutes late each time to the first game.

This past weekend was a little more chaotic because my son has decided that this spring he is going to play lacrosse and baseball. So yesterday, after the lacrosse game ended, he and my husband bolted off the lacrosse field and rushed to baseball practice. I then took my daughter to gymnastics. We then all met up again around 4 pm. Throughout the day I kept asking myself, "Why do we do this as parents? Why is one sport or dance class not enough?” As I sat and debated the answer with myself, I came to the conclusion that I am just a typical parent who does not want to disappoint their children. However, I wondered how the demands of two sports and two practices each week for my son was going to affect him emotionally and academically.

I have always prided myself on not overbooking my children's schedules. I believe that kids need downtime to become successful and productive individuals. I am a firm believer that when children are overscheduled, they forget to develop emotional intelligence. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, “emotional intelligence” is defined as, “the ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions." Accordingly, the ability to manage emotions effectively is a key part of emotional intelligence. Regulating emotions, responding appropriately and responding to the emotions of others are all important aspects of emotional management.

Furthermore, emotional intelligence is the foundation for high self esteem. According to the She Knows Parenting Blog, "We all know that people who are emotionally appropriate are more pleasant to be around than people who are not.” But what are the other benefits of emotional intelligence? According to the non-profit Six Seconds, some of the specific benefits for children include:
1. Academic success. Children with higher emotional intelligence perform better in school, as a whole, than their peers with lower emotional intelligence scores.
2. Academic retention. Children with higher emotional intelligence are less likely to drop out of high school or college than children with lower emotional intelligence scores.
3. Increased pro-social behavior. Children with higher emotional intelligence tend to be more adept at navigating relationships, cooperating and responding compassionately and appropriately with friends, at home and at school.

Like many parents, I fear that if my child has too many scheduled activities, he may loose that emotional intelligence to actually know when he needs a break. I think striking a healthy balance of activity and downtime is most effective.

There is evidence that children who are overbooked struggle with anxiety and sometimes depression. Millions of children across America feel overwhelmed and pressured. Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, believes that enrolling children in too many activities is a nationwide problem. "Over scheduling our children is not only a widespread phenomenon, it's how we parent today," he says. "Parents feel remiss that they're not being good parents if their kids aren't in all kinds of activities. Children are under pressure to achieve and to be competitive.”
I agree and disagree with Rosenfeld on his thoughts about over scheduling children. I think some children can become overwhelmed while others do not. After all, we must remember that every child is unique. However, if we are defining ourselves as "good parents" by enrolling our children in a great deal of activities, I think we need to redefine what a “good parent” is. I have always believed that a good parent is one who understands their child's needs, strengths and weaknesses and makes appropriate decisions for him based on this knowledge.

So, let me conclude by saying that I was worried about overbooking my son's schedule, but as long as I see that he can handle it without become anxious or depressed, I am going to continue to allow him to participate in the activities he enjoys. If I see that it is putting stress on his life, then we will make a decision to pull back.

Dr. Sue Cornbluth

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